Ghostcrawler has been doing a lot of talking pertaining to paladins and Blizzard's vision of them for the future. A lot of this has been spawned by some of the changes the developers have been toying around with on the public test realms. In the current build of the PTR, Lay on Hands causes Forbearance on its target which has prompted quite an uproar from the playerbase. This cuts a leg out from our two major defensive cooldowns making us choose either health or invulnerability during a fight. Holy paladins are getting some text tacked onto Sanctified Light which will allow them to reduce the chance it will cause Forbearance on others by 33/66/100% to allow it to still be useful when healing in groups. As this is the PTR, we don't really know how much of this will end up on the live realms. The developers have been toying around with several different ideas and at the moment we're not sure which one or ones they'll end up going with.
A little more background on the situation is probably a good idea. There has been a lot of talk about hybrids lately on the WoW forums. Ghostcrawler put up a long post on the definition of a hybrid and describing what is often coined the "hybrid tax" as far as DPS goes. The definition he gives of a hybrid is any class that can fill multiple roles. Period. That's it. There aren't any classes that are more hybrid or less hybrid. You are either a pure or a hybrid and after that there is no other subcategory from their point of view. This means that all tanking and healing classes currently in the game are hybrids.
The hybrid tax, however, is the little bit of an edge that the four pure dps classes are given over the hybrid classes. The reason for this is that if during a patch cycle, the devs accidentally screw up a hybrid's base DPS, the player can just swap over to one of their other roles and still find a spot in both PvP and PvE. If a pure class loses its base DPS, they can't really do much about it other than re-roll. That little bit of an edge that pures get above hybrids in the damage department. It's often referred to as 5% because of an off-hand and completely arbitrary number that Ghostcrawler tossed out as an example in conversation about a year ago on the beta forums which, of course, the players then took as law as players are want to do.
For those of you that have been following the forums or blue-trackers for the past year, this is not new information. Even the hybrid tax post that has sent a lot of the DPS world into a frenzy is really just a quick summation of a lot of old information to have it in one spot. Now, does it suck to be told that as a retadin that you'll never do as much damage in "a perfect scenario" as a rogue, hunter, mage, or warlock? Sure. However, I did say "in a perfect scenario."
If you've ever done any content (PvP or PvE) in the game you know that there is rarely a perfect scenario. Some fights you're constantly chasing around adds, other fights the boss launches into the air and out of melee range, and still other fights you end up getting tossed into that stupid pot Ignis is carrying over and over again because the randomizer happens to absolutely hate you that day. There are a myriad of situational factors that come into play during a fight. There is also your gear, spec, glyphs, potions, elixirs, flasks, enchants, gems, buffs, professions, procs, skill, raid/group/team composition, rotation, latency, threat, mana, healing, and a whole slew of things besides that which also come into play which can greatly affect your damage. Overall, that hybrid tax really doesn't mean much even if it is 5%. You can overcome 5% in just pure skill with everything else being equal.
The problem is that it isn't our damage that's currently causing the devs grief while trying to balance us. With most hybrid classes, if you choose your spec, you're pretty much locked into a particular thing. Cat druids can't heal all that well. Death knights specced for DPS are much squishier compared to their tanky counterparts. However, when you get into the paladin trees, you start having a lot of overlap of great offensive, defensive, and healing cooldowns. So much of what a paladin is starts with the baseline abilities. While the holy tree has a lot of talents to prop it up, a retribution paladin can still put out fairly large heals with Holy Light if only for a short period of time. A holy paladin can pop Hand of Protection, Divine Shield, or Divine Protection and take advantage of those great defenses as none of them are tied directly to the protection tree.
All of this isn't due to a lack of any current vision, it's more of a problem of class baggage. In vanilla WoW, we were designed to be healers and blessing-bots. We were invited to provide our buffs and heal the tank. We had some nice defensive cooldowns, but that didn't matter much, because protection and retribution were both jokes back in those days; and even holy paladins often ended up wearing cloth gear that had better stats on it. While we've been changed over the years, most of that cloth wearing healadin still persists in our older skills, abilities, and talents.
Nowadays, we're a lot more hybrid in our abilities than most other classes. This causes a lot of problems, particularly in PvP. We can be fairly powerful and hard to kill, which means that the developers are hesitant to give us the utility abilities we ask for. In PvE, if a healer goes down at the end of a fight, a ret paladin can stand in for a couple really nice sized heals on the tank and keep him up for a few moments. These types of things make the developers nervous. It makes them look over our skills and talents trying to figure out where to make the change. They've talked about significantly nerfing some skills like Holy Light and Sacred Shield baseline and propping them back up to their current incarnation via talents deep in the trees. All to make us less able to fill other roles when talented one way or another.
Thankfully, a lot of this will probably not be in patch 3.3 as some of it would require massive changes to a lot of paladin abilities and talents. From a long term view, we are likely to see another major class overhaul in Cataclysm beyond what other classes will be getting. Expect to see a lot of the defensive cooldowns be either nerfed or removed from baseline. Expect to see more abilities talented or tied into procs from talents much like Exorcism and Art of War are now. And lastly, expect to see baseline healing nerfed "to the ground" and propped up more by the holy tree. Once the three specs are more segregated, we should see more of the things we've been asking for to be added (maybe not Mortal Strike, because if everyone had it then there would be no point to anyone having it).
The Light and How to Swing It tries to help Paladins cope with the dark times coming in Cataclysm. See the upcoming Paladin changes the expansion will bring. With Wrath beginning to come to a close and soon the final showdown with the Lich King will be here. Are you ready for the assault on Icecrown Citadel?